We left Rome on Thursday December 20 and were back in Boston for the holidays. Rome was another great experience for us and we really loved the city. We didn’t get to know it quite as well as Paris but it is a bit more spread out, it has hills and their public transit system is meager compared to Paris. That being said, we were able to navigate central Rome remarkably well without google maps. Our last houseguests left us on December 4 and we made the most of the last two weeks. We used our morning runs to explore some different neighborhoods and three new churches for us. Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, The Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran and Santa Maria in Cosmedin.
The most significant of these is The Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran as it is the oldest and highest ranking of the four papal major basilicas and is the oldest and most important basilica of the Western world. We would say that it is a must see if you are into churches.
Santa Maria in Cosmedin is a minor basilica and its major point of interest is the “mouth of truth” which is in the portico of the church.
We visited one last museum, the Capitoline Museums in the Piazza del Campidoglio. These museums house ancient bronzes, Roman statues and Medieval and Renaissance art started by Pope Sixtus IV’s donation of important ancient bronzes to the people of Rome. This is an interesting museum with a great rooftop cafe.
If you can’t tell by all of the pictures, we definitely recommend a visit to this museum. On our next to last Sunday in Italy we took a bus to Catacombe Santa Domitilla and took a short guided tour of these catacombs. Italian catacombs are underground cemetery’s and mazes. These are burial sites and not just bone storage sites or ossuaries as in Paris. There are numerous catacombs around Rome and all over Italy.
The reason that we came here on Sunday is that the nearby Appian Way is closed to all but local traffic on Sundays and we wanted to walk it back into Rome. As you can see from the pictures it is quite narrow and is usually a very busy road with cars, buses, scooters and bicycles. It was a wonderful quiet walk with minimal traffic and only a very few other walkers.
We walked the Appian Way to Trastevere where we saw the movie A Private War and then walked on home. We saw the Pope, Papa Francesco twice in our last two weeks. First in Piazza Spagna on December 8 for the veneration of the Immaculate conception. We arrived an hour early and were behind about four rows of tall people and were unable to see much but it was fun to be part of the celebration amidst the holiday crowds.
Our second encounter was at a Papal general audience which occurs every Wednesday. Free tickets for this are available at many different venues in Rome. We emailed the Bishops’ Office for United States Visitors to the Vatican and they had us pick our tickets up and gave us a brief orientation on where to go and what to expect. We arrived at 6:30am, an hour before security opened.
We entered the auditorium before 8:00 and had seats one seat in from the aisle and Sandy was able to touch Papa Francesco’s sleeve as he went by blessing people and kissing babies on his way in and then again on his way out three hours later.
It was a very long morning but the camaraderie of the attendee’s while waiting on the Pope was very gratifying to watch and be a part of with people from all over the world.
We took a two day excursion to Napoli by train staying at an Airbnb in the Spanish quarter with a beautiful view of Mt. Vesuvius and The Gulf of Naples.
Sandy was a little freaked out about it when a friend who is a very frequent traveler to Italy commented that “we were brave to go to Napoli”. The Quartieri Spagnoli is a side hill neighborhood of narrow streets with lots of little shops, lots of laundry hanging from above and on racks in the street. It seemed that there were lots of families living in small street level apartments with doors and windows open in spite of the cold. Wikipedia does say that it is a poor area, suffering from high unemployment and strong influence of Camorra.
Jim felt very safe and enjoyed it, Sandy was uncomfortable and couldn’t wait to leave. We arrived on Saturday and wandered the crowded streets with all of the Neapolitans out shopping for Christmas.
Naples definitely has a different feel from other Italian cities that we have been in. The old section has a gritty squalid quality and on Monday morning after the weekend revelry the main street, via Toledo, was covered with trash. While searching for lunch on Saturday we stumbled into Antica Cucina Campagnola and took their last available table.
It was a very local restaurant with lots of families and a blackboard only menu in Italian of course. Food and atmosphere was very good.
After lunch we visited the Duomo di Napoli which is the main cathedral of Naples. It is much smaller and less impressive than the other Duomo’s that we have visited in Italy.
Sandy’s primary goal in Naples was to climb to the top of Mt. Vesuvius which is really an easy walk from a parking lot near the top. We hired a local driver to take us from Naples to Vesuvius. He did his best to get us to the top, driving around one barrier and a police car with lights on partially blocking the road before coming to a work crew with more police where we were finally turned back as apparently some controlled fires had gotten out of control.
We then had our driver take us to Herculaneum which was buried in lava and ash when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Unlike Pompeii, the heavy blanket of lava that covered Herculaneum carbonized and thereby preserved wood and other organic-based materials such as roofs, beds, doors, and food. Although most of the residents had evacuated the city in advance of the lava, the well-preserved skeletons of 300 people who perished near the seawall were discovered in 1997.
While considering a private tour we met a lovely British/Scottish couple Jane and George Hansom. We talked for 30 minutes before starting our audio guided tours and then met up with them for dinner.
We now have another connection in London for when we return in June of 2019. Our last day in Naples we visited the National Archeological Museum where we saw the many artifacts and classical sculptures which came from the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
We then waited about 15 minutes in queue to sample a Neapolitan pizza from Pizzerie Gino Sorbillo.
Pizza was followed by coffee and dessert at Gran Caffe Gambrinus which is a Naples landmark for tourists and locals alike. We had baba, a small rich sponge cake soaked in rum, and Sfogliatella which is a shell shaped filled pastry native to this region. We rarely have desserts but these were memorable. In spite of Sandy’s negative reaction to Naples we would definitely recommend a visit to the area as Sorrento, the Amalfi coast and Capri are so close by. Back in Rome we had a whirlwind last two full days, taking our last run in Rome and packing up to return home on the 18th and doing two last tours of the Vatican on the 19th.
When we picked up our tickets for the Papal audience we learned that American seminarians give free tours of St. Peter’s Basilica and we took advantage of their last tour of the year on our last day. Our tour guide, Reed Flood, was a young seminarian from Iowa who gave a very informative and loving tour of both St. Peter’s square and the basilica. Unfortunately we had to leave him early as we had also acquired last minute tickets to a tour St. Peter’s tomb and the necropolis underneath the basilica. This is a very special tour and requires reservations six months in advance during busy times. We had walked in four days earlier for our tickets. Several of our friends had recommended this tour and we can in turn highly recommend it as you will be directly below the high altar. You can find more information on this by clicking the link above. We have now seen St. Peter’s Basilica from top to bottom. We had a great last walk home from Vatican City in the Christmas lit streets of Rome.
90 days in Italy was perfect. We started in Venice and visited Vicenza, Lake Garda, Verona, Milan, Rome, Tuscany, Positano, Florence and Naples. We had a great comfortable home in Rome with such a sweet accommodating host. We traveled with great friends, had surprise guests, expected guests and family visits. We feel so fortunate to be blessed with this living the fantasy life. Most of all we are thankful for each other as most of our time is spent in countries or cities where we know nobody else. We both feel so fortunate to have a spouse who embraces the same love of adventure and travel. We have been in the Boston area for over three weeks now and have been dealing with crises, death, multiple appointments, home and condo issues, family time and friends. We are now off on our next adventure, not to Seville Spain as planned but instead to CDMX/Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City. Reactions from friends and family are either “what a great city” or “don’t go, it is much too dangerous”. We plan on being very cautious and enjoying ourselves immensely.
Stay tuned for more from CDMX.